Tale of two Ravens Super Bowl teams

Tale of two Ravens Super Bowl teams
January 25, 2013, 2:30 am
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Ravens won't pose with Lombardi trophy until they earn it

We’re starting to hear some media chatter about comparing this Ravens team to their Super Bowl champions of 12 years ago. The two really aren’t very similar.

Start with the most dominant characteristic of the 2000 season’s Ravens — defense. The team won with defense. It regularly shut down the opposition. Ray Lewis was entering the height of his powers, making every play a search-and-destroy mission, often unencumbered by blockers, who were occupied by the massive tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa. Veteran defensive ends Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary provided consistent pass-rushing pressure, along with linebacker Peter Boulware. Chris McAlister was big and fast, already a shutdown corner at 23.

This season’s defense, at its best, does a lot of bending but lately not much breaking. It has looked vulnerable at times. Lewis is 12 seasons smarter than his 2000 self, but also 12 seasons older. Terrell Suggs, coming back from injury, has not been able to provide constant quarterback pressure. Paul Kruger has had a nice season, but he’s no Boulware. However, Haloti Ngata, when he’s in complete form and not hampered by injury as he’s been at times this season, is a more athletic, more complete defensive tackle than the 2000 team had.

The 2000 Ravens’ offense struggled through much of the season, with the team often just hoping it wouldn’t lose the game for the defense. It endured a five-game touchdown drought and started the season with Tony Banks at quarterback before switching halfway to Trent Dilfer. Now, we love Dilfer’s NFL analysis on ESPN, but he was not a great quarterback. He had his moments, but Dilfer ended throwing nearly as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (12) during the regular season.

On the other hand, for all of his puzzling performances during this season, Joe Flacco has been elite in the playoffs, out-dueling two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

The 2000 and 2012 offenses do have a similarity in that each had a two-prong attack at running back. This season, Bernard Pierce has emerged as a capable partner for Ray Rice, though much of the offense still depends on getting Rice the ball. In 2000, Jamal Lewis carried the load with an assist from Priest Holmes. Lewis was a rookie that season, a big back with surprising speed. Holmes wasn’t as big, but he was quicker.

At receiver, the 2000 team could count on Shannon Sharpe at tight end and Qadry Ismail at wide-out, but that was about it. This season’s Ravens have four players — Anquan Boldin, Rice, Dennis Pitta and Torrey Smith — with at least 49 catches in the regular season; the 2000 team had the aforementioned two. And on the offensive line, the 2000 Ravens had Hall of Fame-bound Jonathan Ogden at left tackle. This season’s line hasn’t come together until the postseason.

Twelve years ago, Jermaine Lewis was a dangerous punt returner, but he wasn’t the constant threat that Jacoby Jones has been on punts and kickoffs. In the kicking game, it has been suggested that Matt Stover held the 2000 team together with his consistent foot, putting up field goals when the offense constantly stalled. He was 35-for-39 in the regular season. Rookie Justin Tucker has been a worthy successor, going 30-for-33, and making a kick in Denver that no Ravens fan will ever forget.

So beyond the fact that Ray Lewis was on both teams and that both had two effective running backs, these two teams aren’t much alike.